Tuesday 3 March 2015

A new Metier recording of works by David Gorton shows him to be a composer of subtlety who brings fine detail and lovely textures and sonorities

David Gorton www.davidgortonmusic.com studied composition with Harrison Birtwistle and Simon Bainbridge and is the Associate Head of Research at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

He first came to public attention in 2001 when he was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize. Commissions followed for ensembles that include the London Sinfonietta, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Exposé, Jane's Minstrels, the Kreutzer Quartet, and the Sacconi Quartet. His music has been performed throughout Europe and America, in China, and in Vietnam and much of his recent music is recorded on the Métier label.

David Gorton's music draws for inspiration on both contemporary and historical sources, whether in the caricature of current cabinet ministers through the lens of Dowland's lute music, the economic consequences of austerity measures played out in a chamber music setting, or the depiction of 21st-century landscapes complete with abandoned radar systems, nuclear testing, and UFO sightings.

The latest recording of David Gorton’s music by Metier www.divine-art.co.uk/metierhome.htm  is entitled Orfordness and includes the piano work that gives this new disc its title, Orfordness, Austerity Measures II for oboe and string quartet, Piano Quintet: Fosdyke Wash and his 2nd Sonata for Cello.

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Orfordness, which is in five movements played without a break, relates to a former military base on the Suffolk coast. The pianist here is Zubin Kanga www.zubinkanga.com .

The first movement, titled Evacuation of the Civil Population from Shingle Street, Suffolk concerning the events that took place in 1940 has a florid opening bringing the sense of chaos, alarm and disruption over a single note. The music is allowed to fade slowly before we go into the second movement, Cobra Mist, named after a radar system. There is a constant fixed drone over which plucked piano strings are heard as well as strings that are struck. Throughout this movement the faint drone continues creating a strange, disconnected atmosphere.

The third movement titled You can’t tell the people brings a recording of the Rendlesham Forest Incident interspersed by fragmented piano motifs. This incident is well known to many and concerns a reported UFO sighting at the military base. Here extended extracts from the actual tape recordings by the Deputy Base Commander are used. This movement takes the listener into more of a narrative with occasional fragmentary piano chords though the piano motif is later developed a little. Many will find these recorded extracts of the incident hugely interesting in themselves. It is further recorded passages that dominate until we are taken into the fourth movement, Blue Danube referring to a nuclear weapon of that name.

This brings a limpid, flowing piano theme that soon begins to skip around. This is an outwardly light hearted movement that ends on a short flourish, though there is surely an underlying darker message. The drone from the second movement returns in the final movement, The Island, depicting the empty landscape after the military had left. This time the drone varies as a little motif is picked out as though points of interest appear on an empty landscape or perhaps memories intrude. The music just seems to disappear at the end.

This is, in many ways, an evocative work very well recorded at the Royal Academy of Music, London, England.

Austerity Measures II was written for the Howarth-Redgate oboe www.21stcenturyoboe.com and string quartet and takes the composer’s third string quartet, his Passacaglia for violin and cello and Cadence for violin and viola and combines them to produce a highly virtuosic piece played here by Christopher Redgate (oboe) www.christopherredgate.co.uk  and the Kreutzer Quartet www.peter-sheppard-skaerved.com/2009/11/kreutzer-quartet in a live recording. After a raucous entry from the Kreutzer Quartet the music slowly settles with some unusual textures and timbres from the players. There are some intense clashes of sounds as the works that provide the basis of this piece are overlaid though, remarkably, retaining a coherent whole despite the violent dissonances.

At times the long held notes on the oboe are almost indistinguishable from some string sounds. Later the held cries of the Redgate oboe bring a distinctive timbre quite unlike an expected oboe sound.  It is fascinating to let the ear follow individual musical lines as they develop their own motifs. Eventually the oboe develops what one might call more recognisable oboe phrases with some remarkable playing before growing quieter with intricate little motifs. Towards the end there are some unbelievably fine virtuosic oboe passages, brilliantly played, leading to a sudden end.

This is not an easy listen but a fascinating and, at times, revealing one. These artists bring some terrific playing and all taken from a live concert. The live recording from Wilton’s Music Hall, London, England has no obvious audience noise.

For his Piano Quintet: Fosdyke Wash David Gorton uses non-equally-tempered tunings and the extensive use of harmonics as well as an e-bow to sustain the piano’s sound. The artists here are pianist Zubin Kanga and the Kreutzer Quartet.

The Quintet opens with a sustained string note countered by a single piano note before the piano develops a motif over the held string note. A deep swaying cello note appears against a violin note and pizzicato strings. Gently, the quartet develops; the music creating the most subtle little colours before a slow developing of string textures with little piano chords. There are little staccato string phrases set against a similar motif for the piano, slowly increasing in tempo. As the music slows there are deep groans from the cello and lovely emerging textures from the strings. There is a rise in tension that soon fades before returning to the opening sounds of this work with the piano and a held note, slowly developed in the piano part. Strange little pizzicato phrases appear then a little string motif against which the piano sounds occasional phrases. This is a strange, quite mesmeric episode full of atmosphere capturing the bleak and desolate landscape around Fosdyke Wash with the piano rising ever higher before fading at the coda.

This is another excellent recording again made at the Royal Academy of Music, London, England.

Gorton’s Cello Sonata No. 2 is another virtuosic work that, in performance, makes play of the physical movement of the cellist. None of the virtuosity is lost in this fine performance from cellist Neil Heyde www.ram.ac.uk/about-us/staff/neil-heyde  and Milton Mermikides (electronics) www.miltonline.com . The music opens with little sprung bowed phrases that lead to longer drawn passages as the music develops with some fine sonorities and textures. The electronics contribute by way of recalling a previous performance of the sonata. The music soon develops into a faster passage with some very fine playing indeed. The contribution from the electronics is subtle and compliments the cello line and phrases perfectly. Part way through, the cello brings a melodic idea against a more agitated theme. Another longer melodic theme arrives again, against more fragmented ideas, before falling to more tentative phrases. Eventually a rich, long held cello note leads forward with a variety of string effects disrupting it before a final cello passage rises up to finish.

This recording, again made at the Royal Academy of Music, London, England, is fairly closely miked but clear and detailed.

This is a fine disc that shows David Gorten to be a composer of subtlety who brings fine detail and lovely textures and sonorities. There are informative booklet notes. 

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